Wednesday, March 9, 2011

G. M. Atwater & Nick, Gael, Jesse, and Ash

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, G. M. Atwater, and Nick. He’s a 2–1/2 year old smooth-coated border collie, and here we had just placed 2nd in Novice-Novice at the Lacamas Valley (USBCHA) sheepdog trial.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We’ve stopped by the Blind Dog Café in Gardnerville, NV, after a good day of sheepdog training. Nick and his little sister Gael, (age 1-1/2) and the old man, Jesse, (age 12) love what we do.

What's brewing?

Since I’m off caffeine these days, I’m having a delicious cup of Blind Dog’s own Decaf Komodo Dark Roast. (They roast their own beans just one block from the café.)

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

I love a fresh-baked scone or cinnamon roll.

Any treat for your dogs on this occasion?

They get some Waggin’ Tails Liver Cookies from Scraps Dog Company in Reno.

How were you and your dogs united?

I got Jesse [photo left] as a rescue when he was 2 years old. His previous owner had no clue what to do with a border collie, and hadn’t treated him fairly. At the time, we honestly didn’t need another dog! But I tested Jesse on sheep, and he was so nice that I couldn’t let him go. He’s been with us for the past 10 years. Jesse is a great working dog and a true pal, and I still find work for him, despite age slowing him down.

Nick came from a breeder in northern California. He was actually a gift from my sheepdog training friends, after I lost another pup to an accident. Nick has proven to be a gift in so many ways!

I got his little sister, Gael, when the breeder repeated the mating a year or so later. Gael is such a funny, busy little scamp! And like her brother, she lives to work sheep.

Our 9-month-old Australian Shepherd, Ash, [photo right] was bred by a good friend of mine. I’ve known Ash’s mama and papa all their lives, and I was right there to help when the litter was born. I was the first human being to touch Ash at her birth.

How did your dogs get their names? Do they have any nicknames?

Jesse came with his name, but it morphed into Jesse James. I had a whole list of “baby” names picked out for Nick, and narrowed it down to Nick or Joe. He just wasn’t a Joe. His nickname, for no reason at all, is “Nickety-Shoo.” I chose Gael as a classic border collie name for a pretty little girl. We call her Gael “LaRoo,” because she loves to voice a very emphatic roooo! We named Ash for her smoky blue merle coat, and nicknamed her Ashley Ann. We don’t know why.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?


Tennis ball, Frisbee, squeaky-toy...?

Sheep! And ball. Gael is meanwhile Ash’s squeaky toy.

Where is your dogs' favorite place for an outing?

Anywhere that has sheep. Or wide-open spaces. They love to run!

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

They have a couple sets of pet-pals. They love to go visit Ash’s family and romp with all that bob-tailed Aussie crew. (And work sheep there, too.) Their other dog-pals live with my friend Paula. She has several border collies and when we get our packs together, it looks like a blizzard of dogs careening around the yard!

What is each dog's most endearing quality?

Jesse is honest as the day is long, and he’s also kind of a dork with his toys. It’s very cute. Nick [photo right] is a workaholic around sheep, but at home, he’s my shadow. He loves to lay near or on my feet and just be close. Gael is my snuggle-bug. First thing in the morning, she gets on the bed to cuddle close and lie perfectly still. Ash the Aussie is silly and playful and makes us laugh a billion times a day.

If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?

They would really prefer we kept sheep here year-around. And went on more hikes in the hills behind the house.

What is each dog's proudest moment? Most embarrassing?

Jesse’s proudest moment was winning an AHBA sheepdog trial with a near-perfect run. It was so close to flawless that the judge later raved about it as an example of what a good dog could do.

Nick’s proudest moment was recently placing in his second-ever USBCHA Pro-Novice trial. He took 3rd place with a 76, out of 11 dogs. My boy really tried his heart out. (At our first P/N trial last fall, we came in dead last out of like 25 dogs. Heh.)

Gael’s proudest moment is pretty much every day she works sheep. She’ll show her winning style when we start trialing later this year.

Ash is proudest when she can sneak a scrap of food off the counter. We’re working to discourage that.

Visit G. M. Atwater's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue